June 25, 2022

Three Signs You’re Not Actually a Socialist

“You may not find yourself worshiping at the altar of capitalism, but if you like iPhones, comparison shopping, and merit-based pay, you’re probably not a socialist.” ~ Albert Eisenberg

America’s youngest generations are succumbing to the lure of socialism. What Winston Churchill called “the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy” is increasingly the de facto mindset for young Americans, including a majority of young Democrats

How can this be? Do Millennials and Gen Zers, the same generations that revolutionized ride-sharing, bought into AirBnB and demanded mobile banking, truly support a centralized, planned economy? Probably not. The truth is, most self-professed “socialists” don’t really know what socialism is and are really just conscientious (or frustrated) consumers. Could this be you? Here are a few ways to decide:

  1. You have the newest iPhone (or a phone from the last three years)

Socialists don’t rely on innovation from the private sector to improve lives, they turn to centralized government planning. And they certainly oppose paying through the nose to purchase tech from a private company. If you have the newest iPhone, or similarly upgraded smart tech, then you’re most likely not a socialist at heart, at least not a very good one. 

And that’s actually pretty understandable. Tech swag is almost exclusively coming from the private sector, because the private sector and its market incentives will always provide a better path to innovation than the public sector. Who hasn’t thrown up their arms in frustration over a government-run website or wait time to file taxes or secure a government ID in the last two years? Behold, the fruits of central planning.

  1. When you look for an Uber, you also check Lyft for pricing.

Uber XL for your large group? Uber Black Car after the pregame? Lyft, if it’s cheaper? Comparing the price of similar services, weighing your options, and choosing the best fit as a customer is capitalism in its purest form.

If this sounds like you, there’s no shame in it. Comparing options is only human nature. Sure, having hundreds of choices in the deodorant aisle probably might not make us happier. But having options when it comes to the services we need, especially options that pit service providers against each other in terms of pricing, is very favorable to consumers.

Bonus points: do you tip your drivers who go above and beyond in the service they provide, to show your appreciation in the form of a financial reward? That’s merit-based pay, and while supporting or engaging in such behavior may make you a good person, it also makes you a very bad socialist.  

  1. You think a forest firefighter, E.R. nurse, or garbage collector should be paid more than somebody with a safer, easier job.

It’s been a tough couple of years for American workers. Covid-19 revealed our need for essential workers, and showed the heroism of those who responded to the call, rushing into hospitals to protect the most vulnerable or charging into forest fires to save cherished wildlife. Those who cleaned up the trash while many of us sat on our laptops deserve both respect and a good paycheck.

This sentiment is both humane and understandable — but it isn’t socialism. 

Socialists aim to provide the same compensation for people across the board. That would mean that people whose work is heroic, like treating gunshot wound victims, or barreling into skin-blistering heat to save wildlife and homes, would only ever earn the same wage as a desk job (or no job at all).

Paying people the same amount for jobs with vastly different risk profiles, requirements and impact on others is a guaranteed way to deter people from doing the harder, more dangerous jobs. If you agree that people work for compensation, and that more dangerous, more valorous jobs like E.R. nurse, firefighter or garbage collector should earn commensurate compensation, then you are a very bad socialist indeed.

So what does all this tell us? That there are likely a number of bad socialists in the cohort of people who refer to themselves as such. What’s more, we also know that defenders of capitalism haven’t done a very good job explaining what the freedom to choose and innovate means for regular people.

Young people who profess to be “socialists” aren’t really yearning for a centrally-planned economy. They are in fact communicating a broad set of sentiments: that capitalism has tarnished many things in the natural world, that wealth inequality is a problem, and that “consumption culture” is ugly.

But, in reality, you don’t have to support a centralized economy to be discontented with the market, environmental degradation, or poverty. In fact, if you’re upset with any of those, you shouldn’t turn to socialism as a cure-all. Historically, socialism has been responsible for making these societal problems much worse. 

You may not find yourself worshiping at the altar of capitalism, but if you like iPhones, comparison shopping, and merit-based pay, you’re probably not a socialist.

This article, Three Signs You’re Not Actually a Socialist, was originally published by the American Institute for Economic Research and appears here with permission. Please support their efforts.